Other changes in R2 include support for email distribution groups; mobile device management tools, including remote wipe and policy enforcement controls; SharePoint library management; Windows Azure Active Directory, which includes support for single sign-on to both on-premises and cloud-hosted applications; and tighter integration of Windows Intune and Windows Azure Backup within an overall management Dashboard.
Does R2 add up to a compelling package? Forrester analyst David Johnson thinks so.
"Microsoft has done a brilliant job," he said in a phone interview. "Windows Server provides data center administrators already familiar with Microsoft tools a gateway into the cloud."
Johnson noted that Microsoft has years of expertise managing cloud services, including not only modern products such as Office 365, but also retired services, such as Hotmail. He said the company is now "taking a step forward," with products that provide not only cloud-based storage and collaboration, but also tools to develop applications that can be hosted in Azure, and a bigger role for open-source technology.
Windows Server's outlook is "very positive," Johnson said.
Customers who've only used Microsoft Server as an on-premises resource will need to decide whether they are ready to use it as a launchpad to the cloud. If Microsoft successfully persuades these customers, the ripple effects could be immense, with revenue pouring into not only Windows Server products, but also Office 365, Azure and others. The product promises, in other words, some of the top-to-bottom synergy that CEO Steve Ballmer hopes to achieve with his recent reorganization of the company.
With competitors such as Amazon and VMware making moves of their own, Microsoft's path to victory is not assured. But with a built-in base of Windows Server users and an aggressive cloud strategy, Microsoft could be poised for a surge.